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The Historical Adam and the Saving Christ, Part 1: Adam as Israel

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April 15, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin
The Historical Adam and the Saving Christ, Part 1: Adam as Israel

Today's entry was written by Daniel Kirk. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Some of the highest hurdles for setting aside the historicity of a literal Adam and Eve are raised by the New Testament. In Romans and 1 Corinthians, in particular, Paul presents Jesus as a “Second Adam.”

Does this not, then, imply both that Paul himself thought that Adam was a historical figure? More importantly, doesn’t the validity of his claims about Christ stand or fall with the historicity of his claims about Adam? I don’t think so.

In wrestling with the question of the significance of the historical Adam for Paul’s theology of the crucified and risen Jesus, I begin with the Old Testament stories themselves. In short, I would argue that ancient stories of beginnings are never simply written to tell their readers what happened. They are written to tell readers how their own story is connected to the purposes God (or the gods) had in making the world and people upon it.

In the case of Israel, this means that the creation narratives are written at later stages in Israel’s story to show that Israel is the means by which God is acting to fulfill God’s purposes for the world. God calls Israel to be and to do what humanity was created to be and to do. Read through the Old Testament stories with the creation narratives in one hand and you find myriad ways that the scriptures say, “God did not give up on creation, but is bringing its purposes to fruition through the people of Israel.”

To give but one example, Genesis and the early part of Exodus echo the blessing God spoke to humanity at creation: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). This language is not only repeated when God recreates the earth after the Flood (Genesis 8:17; 9:1, 7), it is used after Abraham is singled out as the mediator of God’s blessing.

Genesis 17:6 contains this promise to Abraham: “I will make you extremely fruitful. I will make nations of you and kings will descend from you.” Not only does this pick up on the language of fruitfulness from creation (Genesis 1) and re-creation (Genesis 8-9, after the flood), it also indicates that Abraham’s family is going to fulfill what God originally intended for humanity: to rule the world on God’s behalf (Genesis 1:26-28).

The blessing of fruitfulness and multiplication is passed along to Jacob, later called Israel (Genesis 28:3; 35:11).

The point here is not to give an exhaustive account of the significance of Genesis 1 as the introduction to the Old Testament canon. Rather, I want to illustrate that stories of creation are told in order to help people interpret their place in the cosmic story. For Israel, this means that the creation narratives are told in order to illustrate how the creator God has placed his name on them and chosen them to fulfill his desires for humanity.

People were created to represent God’s reign to the world, which includes a mediation of God’s love and blessings. When humanity as a whole fails to live up to this calling, Israel is assigned to play the role as a representative of the whole.

This is the point at which, I will argue, Paul is in perfect harmony with the Old Testament narratives. Next week, we will explore some ways in which the apostle makes similar interpretive moves, but with a new fundamental conviction. Paul’s concern is no longer how Israel in general fulfills God’s purpose for creation, but instead how Jesus in particular, as Israel’s messiah, brings humanity’s vocation to completion.

Daniel Kirk is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Fuller Seminary in Northern California. He is the author of Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God and blogs regularly at Storied Theology. He has published articles in numerous venues including Journal of Biblical Literature, Zeitschrift for Neues Testament, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, and Christianity Today.

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BenYachov - #9857

April 15th 2010

>Some of the highest hurdles for setting aside the historicity of a literal Adam and Eve are raised by the New Testament.

I reply: I guess at this point BIOLOGOS has jumped the Shark.  It still hasn’t been explained to me in any rational detail why belief in Evolution, an allegorical Genesis, and an Old Earth must lead to a make believe non-historical Adam?  This is no more than kneejerk Liberal Protestant Fundamentalism at it’s worst.  Time will prove me right.  Evangelicals will NOT embrace the idea Evolution is compatible with the Bible with such implicit heresy.

Big mistake.

norm - #9861

April 15th 2010


Thanks for coming in with your perspective. Excellent points I might add and it looks like I have another book on Romans to add to my collection. I particularly have been influenced by A. T. Robinson “The Body” and Tom Holland “Contours of Pauline Theology” along with N. T. Wright “Paul” to some extent.

I do appreciate the point you made that Genesis was written at a later stage in Israel’s history which I believe does help set the perspective of Genesis. I realize that Genesis Adam is a highly stylized version representing Israel but I’m not convinced that Israel did not consider that their heritage went further back in time than Moses and Abraham. At least the story is utilized by Paul theologically in that sense and yet I can see some wiggle room there for Paul appropriating Israel’s account for his own theological purpose. However it does seem to be a crucial detail that there was an original individual that Israel begins with albeit a highly symbolic one. I however consider Adam’s Israel as the precursor to the church through resurrection (Dan 12:2) via Christ and in this version Paul views Adam as the first from humanity in which God chose to establish His covenant church.

norm - #9863

April 15th 2010


I think you are only partialy correct. The message of Genesis, Adam is a hard nut to crack but IMO it is doable when the story is put in the hands of people that can relate the big picture overview properly. It is still very early in the process now and the story is being uncovered but given the evangelical church’s rapid decline there may not be that many out there to be concerned with in about 50 years.

Once more clarity is imparted then the Story Tellers will go to work with confidence. I’m thinking of movie makers and speakers who are gifted in presenting vibrant visions of this Big Picture.

James F. McGrath - #9866

April 15th 2010

The usual reason given for treating Adam literally is the comparison between Adam and Christ in Romans. And yet that passage is not making a comparison between two individuals humans can potentially be descended from. It is rather making a comparison between two spheres of influence or two modes of existence.

I still think that if we’d translate the Hebrew word “adam” as “Human” rather than as a proper name “Adam”, more people would be receptive to getting this point, namely that this character in Genesis depicts human existence, not one human from whom we all in fact trace our ancestry.

The deepest irony is that it is very popular to read the text this way and thus blame Adam for our predicament rather than ourselves. Yet such passing of blame is depicted as problematic in Genesis 3 itself!

BenYachov - #9868

April 15th 2010

It still hasn’t been explained to me in any rational detail why belief in Evolution, an allegorical Genesis, and an Old Earth must lead to a make believe non-historical Adam? I can believe all of the former & I can believe the later.  So WHY must Adam be unreal?  Somebody anybody please give me a scientific, logical, philosophical reason why?  Otherwise there is no reason any Bible believing Evolutionary Creationist should buy into this IMHO false liberal view?

J. R. Daniel Kirk - #9869

April 15th 2010


I appreciate your concerns about how we argue for the kind of Adam we see in Gen 1-3. Underlying this post/series of posts is the idea that literary and historical considerations should guide us in our understanding of how to read the Adam narratives. No, there is no scientific or logical reason for one view of Adam or the other; but there might be good biblical reasons for one kind of Adam or another. That’s what I’m trying to outline here (and James M. helpfully adds to it above). The reason I won’t assent to the idea that this is a “liberal” view is that it’s based on what I understand to be the best way to read the Bible, not a presupposition that the Bible can’t speak truly about the ultimate significance of the world.

As for “philosophical” reasons, I’m not sure what passes muster there, but there are some very good theological reasons for going in either direction. I’m answering those by saying that there’s a different approach to the question that we should weigh.

Norm - #9871

April 15th 2010

James you said … “It is rather making a comparison between two spheres of influence or two modes of existence.

That is such an important point because Paul is framing the discussion in a corporate view of one old collective body of Adam contrasted to the new body of Christ. Adam is essentially what Paul describes as the “body of Death” Rom 7:24.

You said … “I still think that if we’d translate the Hebrew word “adam” as “Human” rather than as a proper name “Adam”

Another excellent point because “adam” typically confers more than human but is used specifically in the context of Israel as man.  This is one of the little insights that typically go unnoticed because it infers a special covenant man in relation to God and not humanity at large.

Luke - #9879

April 15th 2010


I’m in total agreement with you and think you make great points. I prefer the “Human” translation as well. However, what I have a tough time with is how Genesis portrays descendants of “Human” with names that can’t be as generic. Although I understand that there are a plethora of issues involved in OT numbers and genealogies, their very existence alone seems to point to the fact that they can trace themselves back to a particular individual that was somehow significant. “Human” is a valid translation and I believe in our teaching and study we should emphasize that we are part of the problem and not just “Adam,” but what about “Human’s” descendants of Cain, Abel, Seth, etc.? Genesis 1-11 is tricky, I understand that. But the existence of the genealogies and personal names/stories have to lead to at least some type of historical understanding, doesn’t it? Even if it’s not the wooden literal historical understanding we heard in Sunday school. What do you think?

Mark Edward - #9884

April 15th 2010

The main thing that has kept me from fully accepting a non-literal Adam, is the existence of the genealogies in Scripture. We’ve got Genesis 5, 1 Chronicles 1, and Luke 3… all of which use Adam with the idea of “he was the first guy”. If Adam is non-literal, and simply represents various aspects of mankind, how are we supposed to deal with these genealogies? At which point do the people listed in them turn from wholly historical to wholly allegorical? Just Adam? Or is it Enoch? Or Noah? Or Abraham?

In other words: If Adam is wholly allegorical, how do we deal with the existence of genealogies in Scripture that treat him as a wholly historical individual that all generations of mankind begin with, and give zero indication that the authors believed he was (wholly) allegorical?

Will Lee - #9885

April 15th 2010

“ancient stories of beginnings are never simply written to tell their readers what happened. They are written to tell readers how their own story is connected to the purposes God (or the gods) had in making the world and people upon it.”

Very good. Very helpful. Even if one doesn’t accept a non-literal Adam, this understanding of the creation account is excellent.

Marshall - #9886

April 15th 2010

James, great comment.

J.R., I do see resonances of Israel’s history/situation in the Eden narrative. We can incorporate this data at least two ways: say the story is about humanity, but coloured by the time and place when it was written, or say the story is just about Israel’s origin. I find the first option most compelling. What’s your take on that?

Marshall - #9889

April 15th 2010

Luke and Mark, I agree that the names and genealogies are interesting. I compiled some things about genealogies that I found helpful in this forum post:


Cain’s line and Seth’s line are interesting for another reason. They seem to incorporate different traditions of the same thing. In Ge. 4, Adam (“man”) begets Cain. In Ge. 5, Enosh (another name meaning “man”) begets Cainan (a variant form of Cain). Here are the lines of Cainan and Cain, with Cain’s descendents rearranged to match:

Cainan, Mahaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech
Cain, Mehujael, Irad, Enoch, Methushael, Lamech

In that span, every name has a close match with no names left over unmatched. Yet taken literally, these two lines should be completely separate. I think there’s something else going on here than plain 20th-century style history!

Chris Massey - #9890

April 15th 2010


In a nutshell, the scientific evidence is that modern humans arose about 200,000 years ago from a population in Africa. That population was never smaller than several thousand people. The Adam of Genesis (a single progenitor of the entire human race who lived within the last 10,000 years) does not fit easily into this picture.

Add to that the stylized nature of the Genesis narrative and its similarities to other ANE creation stories and you have a compelling argument for a non-historical Adam.

Norm - #9892

April 15th 2010

I would like to bring attention to fact that even before the onset of 2nd Temple Judaism that Ezekiel viewed the Garden of Eden and the Tree’s as allegorical concerning Israel and its surrounding pagan Nations. I think we should take a hint and realize the Jews considered Eden in this manner and we should be safe doing so as well.

Eze 28:12-13 ASV Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre …  THOU WAST IN EDEN, THE GARDEN OF GOD; … in the day that THOU WAST CREATED they were prepared. 14 Thou wast THE ANOINTED CHERUB that covereth:

Eze 31:8-9 ASV The cedars IN THE GARDEN OF GOD could not hide it; the fir-trees were not like its boughs, and the plane-trees were not as its branches; NOR WAS ANY TREE IN THE GARDEN OF GOD LIKE UNTO IT IN ITS BEAUTY.  (9)  I made it fair by the multitude of its branches, so that ALL THE TREES OF EDEN, THAT WERE IN THE GARDEN of God, envied it.

Eze 31:16-18 ASV I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down … into the pit; and ALL THE TREES OF EDEN, … (18)  To whom art thou thus like … among the trees of Eden? yet SHALT THOU BE BROUGHT DOWN WITH THE TREES OF EDEN …thou shalt lie in the MIDST OF THE UNCIRCUMCISED …This is Pharaoh …

Jim - #9895

April 15th 2010

Kirk ~  “‘Be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:28). This language is not only repeated when God recreates the earth after the Flood (Genesis 8:17; 9:1, 7), it is used after Abraham is singled out as the mediator of God’s blessing.”

Fruitful multiplication (assortative mating - I know you mean more than this) requires the stands to come unraveled. 

So too the strands of “this language” seem sometimes unraveled (our perspective) – as the language of blessing becomes insinuated into, or shorn out, or in a mixed state – into the daily work-a-day experience of the many nations made glad at God’s judgments in the concrete – (Ps 97:1ff.  “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; Let the many islands be glad”).  I’m looking forward to the next installment.  To see how far you’re willing for the strands of theological language to become unraveled so as to recombine in novel forms to the children of faith beyond Abraham. 



Unapologetic Catholic - #9896

April 15th 2010

Here is the Cathlic Church’s position on literal Adam:

” Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism… While the story of human origins is complex and subject to revision, physical anthropology and molecular biology combine to make a convincing case for the origin of the human species in Africa about 150,000 years ago in a humanoid population of common genetic lineage.”


Short Answer:  Catholics not required to believe in a literal Adam.

BenYachov - #9903

April 15th 2010

Chris Massey -you already know my answer to that.  Biological polygenesis vs monogenesis is not an issue for me in believing in a literal Adam.  Only a theological monogenesis is needed.

Unapologetic Catholic,

The text you cited nowhere says we are not required to believe in a literal Adam(maybe I am wrong but not according to this text) but Pope Pius XII does teach clearly in Humane Generis that men have descended from an individual, Adam, who has transmitted original sin to all mankind. He wrote"it is in no way apparent how such an opinion (polygenism) can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.” END QUOTE

Mairnéalach - #9908

April 15th 2010

Ben Yachov-

It seems to me your statement “only a theological monogenesis is needed” and Pius’s statement “which proceeds from a sin… ... through generation, is passed on” are irreconcilable.

Could Pius have really meant only “theological monogenesis”? I don’t know.

Forget the bible, do we have any authoritative documents which interpret the Pope?

Benyachov(Jim Scott 4th) - #9909

April 15th 2010

Now I do believe you can reconcile the belief in a literal Adam with biological polygenesis(i.e we descend from a population of a few thousand humans no JUST two.  But two of them had souls & they are our common ancestors & exclusive spiritual ones).  There is Roberto Masi’s view in “The Credo of Paul VI: Theology of Original Sin and the Scientific Theory of Evolution” & there is Gerald Schroeder. 

As far as I can tell belief in a literal Adam is part of the ordinary magisterial teaching authority of the church.  Therefore it requires our accent as Catholics.  I could be wrong but I will require an authority equal to Pius XII to believe it & as far as I know the later Popes have not untaught what he taught.

Norm - #9910

April 15th 2010

The dominion language concerning Israel is found repeated in Dan 7:27 in which the new covenant saints will be given rule over all dominions. This is a spiritual dominion breaking the nationalistic rule over Israel by the Beastly Nations (Babylon, Assyria, Greece and Rome). That is why the Beast of Rev 20 being thrown into the pit parallels Ezekiel’s language concerning the Tree Nations of the Garden downfall into the pit beforehand. This is simply judgment language against the Nations who have usurped God’s authority over Physical Israel but now because of the Spiritual nature of the New Kingdom of Christ there will be no more Nations interfering with True Israel the church. This is the simple answer concerning dominion rule.

Gen 1:28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and HAVE DOMINION OVER THE FISH OF THE SEA AND OVER THE BIRDS OF THE HEAVENS AND OVER EVERY LIVING THING that moves on the earth.” 



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